Strictly based on performance, Martin Truex Jr. and his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team seem to have picked up right where they left off at the end of the 2016 season.
But as is often the case, there is far more than the eye can see.
Truex had a dominant car at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and eventually claimed his first win of the season – including a sweep of all three stages – after former race leader Brad Keselowski developed mechanical issues near the finish.
The journey to start the season from Denver, Colo., to Daytona and then to Victory Lane was much more difficult than expected.
Both FRR teams ran into multiple inspection issues at Daytona, some that required crew chief Cole Pearn and members of the team to return to the organization’s Denver headquarters to work on the cars leading up to the Daytona 500.
“I feel like it’s definitely a good start (to the season), and I’m not sure we expected to win this soon, but it definitely feels good that we did,” Truex said.
“I think it definitely hurt us at Daytona, just the chaos of having to do what the guys had to do and working hard and not getting through tech so many times. It was kind of a ‘black eye’ really for the team.
“It caused a lot of extra work, obviously. They all had to fly back to Denver when everybody else had two days off in Daytona to work on it. But that’s really just how our guys are. They’ll do anything. They’ll do whatever it takes.”
A title contender again
With Truex locked into the playoffs and already showing the speed to dominate an intermediate track – similar to his 2016 victory in the Coca-Cola 600 – the No. 78 again looks like a championship contender.
There was much more offseason work involved in this transition, however, starting with a redesigned nose on the Toyota Camry, the addition of a second team at FRR with rookie Erik Jones and the inspection issues which blew up at Daytona.
Even at Atlanta and Las Vegas, the FRR teams have typically been among the cars last to clear pre-qualifying and pre-race inspections, and have lost practice time for their failure to clear in a timely manner.
“It was definitely a tough deal for them, but I really think they put it behind them as soon as Daytona was over. They got the Atlanta car straightened out really quickly, fortunately, and we went to Atlanta and didn’t have any issues,” Truex said.
“We definitely had a stronger car there than we finished. We had the clutch problem. We ran most of the race with no clutch, so pit stops were a problem and we still ran – still finished eighth.
“We had I felt like a top-5 car there and then a good weekend here at Las Vegas. Having a new 2018 Camry, it’s been a little different, so definitely been a good job out of the guys trying to figure it all out.”